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Expert Reviews 1 of 6
By Jim Flammang
April 15, 2002
Vehicle Overview Hondas luxury division launched its first TL sedan for the 1996 model year and redesigned it three seasons later. Acura claims that the TL has been the top-selling luxury performance sedan.
Three years passed, and a reworked midsize 3.2 TL emerged in early spring 2001 as an early 2002 model. Acura reported more than 500 changes that made up the redesign. A new high-performance TL Type S also joined the lineup, packing a high-output engine, a sport-tuned suspension and the companys electronic stability system, called Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA). Responding to eight sensors, the VSA system applies brake force to either front wheel as necessary, while managing the throttle and ignition systems. If vehicle response is outside the predicted range, VSA intervenes with the appropriate corrective action to keep it stable.
The standard Acura/Bose stereo system gained a new in-dash six-CD changer. Other new features include an automatic-up drivers window, a two-position memory for the drivers seat and mirrors, and insulation within the doors that is intended to reduce noise and vibration. Built in Marysville, Ohio, the TL competes against sedans such as the BMW 3 Series and Lexus ES 300.
Exterior Styling is similar to that of Acuras larger RL sedan. Appearance enhancements include a fully restyled front end with an aggressive shield-shaped grille that contains a large Acura logo. A redesigned bumper fascia, reshaped xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights and new standard fog lamps complete the front-end appearance. Taillights display clear upper lenses, and badging has been modified.
The standard 3.2 TL has 16-inch tires on alloy wheels, while the Type S uses 17-inchers. Both versions ride a 108.1-inch wheelbase, stretch to 192.5 inches long overall, and measure 70.7 inches wide and 53.7 inches tall.
Interior Seating five people, the 3.2 TL comes with a power glass moonroof, leather upholstery, a keyless entry system and heated front seats. Perforated-leather seats and leather for the steering wheel and shift knob are installed in the Type S, which features a metallic-face instrument cluster. Only one factory-installed option is available: Acuras satellite-linked DVD navigation system, which comes with a 6-inch touchscreen display.
Under the Hood An all-aluminum 3.2-liter V-6 engine with Variable Timing and lift Electronic Control (VTEC) powers both models. The base 3.2 TL sedans V-6 develops 225 horsepower, while that engine in the Type S cranks out 260 hp Acura claims this is the highest output in its class. The higher-performance V-6 uses a dual-stage induction system. Both models are classified as Low Emissions Vehicles (LEV) in all 50 states.
The standard five-speed-automatic transmission incorporates Sequential SportShift for semi-manual gear changes when desired; a manual transmission is not available. To change gears, the driver moves the shift lever fore and aft within its special gate. When in automatic mode, Acuras Grade Logic System helps to reduce gear hunting while driving on upgrades.
Safety Dual-stage front airbags are accompanied by side-impact airbags. Sensors for the front passenger seat can detect the occupants height and position, which will prevent the side airbag from deploying if a child or short adult is leaning into the deployment path. Three-channel antilock brakes come standard in the 3.2 TL, while four-channel ABS helps halt the Type S. Traction control is another standard feature.
Driving Impressions It takes considerable detective work to find flaws in the current 3.2 TL sedan. When it comes to making sensible, upscale cars, Acura does it right, refined and civilized.
The TL is exceptionally easy to drive, with a satisfying feel that requires a steering effort that is easy but not too light. Maneuvering smartly around corners and curves, the sedan feels like a smaller automobile. Tautness in the suspension is evident only when encountering harsher bumps. On the whole, occupants pay little penalty in ride comfort, while the driver enjoys very good control all around.
Super-energetic, wholly refined acceleration is part of the experience. In fact, the TL virtually leaps ahead when tromped at 35 mph, and it zips out from a standstill like a sporty little creature. Automatic-transmission shifts are barely felt, and downshifts are prompt.
The TLs passenger space in the front and rear is abundant, and seats are nicely cushioned and topped by soft leather. The car is utterly quiet, and even hard-throttle engine sounds are subdued. With large numerals and full calibrations, the gauges are easy to read. Although the navigation screen seems tiny by todays standards, the system works as well as most. Plenty of glass and fine mirrors assure excellent visibility.